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County Council budget forecast brings questions, confusions
Will millage go up in fiscal year 2013-14?
By Pat Andrews
posted Jun 24, 2013 - 10:51:12am
The Volusia County Council's discussion rolled around the meeting chambers June 20 like a bowling ball on the loose. There were interruptions, questions and few answers. Frustration ruled.
The topic was the county government's finances over the next five years. The discussion lasted more than four hours.
In the immediate future, expect a budget presentation July 11 for the coming year, by County Manager Jim Dinneen. Dinneen hinted he will put in a plug for increasing the millage rate. Loss of revenues, unfunded mandates, and increased medical and Votran services are all concerns.
Complaints about measures the state requires counties to take without providing any funding for them — unfunded mandates — are a common refrain at budget time across the state.
"We'll go through these in detail, but you're going to have to give direction," Dineen said.
Auditor Bernadette Britz-Parker of James Moore & Co. had come to the podium to present a forecast by county staff that she had reviewed. The County Council had just received the 163 pages that morning.
County Council Member Doug Daniels said he wasn't pleased with that. He would have preferred a chance to review the forecast before the meeting. Some graphs to show changes over the next five years would have been nice, too, he added.
"I don't think we're going to be able to talk about policy today," Daniels said.
Dinneen broke into the presentation a number of times, to answer questions.
"What we're doing is a projection of what we think will happen," he said.
Dinneen said the projections have "understated expenses" because the County Council in previous years told him not to allow for inflation. So, he's been using "silent cuts" to save money, cutting expenditures and reducing employees in ways that wouldn't have dramatic effects.
If costs go up more than those measures can handle, budget changes will be a policy matter for the council to decide, he said.
Daniels said, "You can't ignore what inflation's going to do to those numbers."
"I have the impression people are not comfortable with this process," Dinneen said.
County Chair Jason Davis agreed, saying there's a lot of data, and a lot of questions.
Council Member Pat Northey suggested giving it a rest.
"The questions are almost bordering on hostile," she said.
Council members Josh Wagner suggested setting an all-day special meeting to go over the forecast.
After discussion, council members decided to have Britz-Parker finish a brief summary — which ended up lasting four hours.
The County Council wants time to study the report and ask questions before a daylong meeting on the budget forecast. And, council members and Dinneen agreed there was no hostility intended in the County Council's many questions, and no hard feelings.
The five-year budget forecast can be viewed at the county's Budget site, and go to 2013 Mini Budget Workshops. Click on "5-Year Forecast_June2013."
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